The personnel of the LÉ Niamh, and the LÉ Eithne before her, are a source of national pride as they continue their life-saving Mediterranean missions.
While the sight of coffins lined up in Sicily has been deeply distressing, it is important that we also remember that there are 3,500 men, women, and children alive today as a direct result of the actions of our Defence Forces this summer.
Given the pivotal role played by our Navy as a first responder to this week’s sinking, we are calling for the Government to now commit to keeping an Irish ship in the Med for as long as necessary, and certainly beyond an expected review in September.
The crisis which continues to unfold is the greatest humanitarian challenge in Europe since the Second World War, and it requires a response which has a humanitarian focus.
At the Immigrant Council of Ireland we would like to see the Government adopt a three-pronged approach: Firstly, recommit to search and rescue; secondly, establish legal channels for people to reach the safety of Europe, and finally, support peace efforts in the conflicts and wars which have sparked this crisis.
Certainly, Ireland has taken a lead in terms of search and rescue. which others should follow.
The Government should, however, reconsider the number of refugees we are accepting. While the decision to double the intake to 600 is welcome, it does fall short of the 40,000 taken in during the past year by countries in Scandinavia with a similar population to our own.
The conflicts at the centre of the crisis are complex and involve unparalleled levels of brutality, but ending them is key. Our politicians and diplomats, through their experience of the peace process, do have insights which could be useful.
Ireland must use its voice to ensure the EU is fully engaged in any peace efforts in the North African and Middle Eastern countries where people are being forced to flee for their lives. It is by no means an easy or swift task, but one which we should not shy away from.
It is clear this crisis still has a long way to run and the months ahead will lead to consequences no-one will have foreseen. For that reason it is important that the Government keeps the situation under constant review and adapts its responses to meet the immediate needs of those in danger.
The Defence Forces have shown us the huge difference a small country can make, but Ireland’s involvement in this humanitarian mission must not end once men, women, and children are brought to the relative safety of the quayside in Palermo.
Brian Killoran is chief executive of the Immigrant Council of Ireland.
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